It's been a while since Thad Beckman lived here in Humboldt. The blues guitarist/songwriter left for Texas a few years back - Austin to be specific - and then moved on from there to Portland, Ore., home to a substantial Humboldt ex-pat community, not that he's exactly part of it.
When I got hold of him at his home in SE Portland I began by asking where he fits in in the Portland scene. "I've sort of broken into the singer/songwriter thing," he said. "I play some of those clubs, and I just recently started something in the blues scene too. I just started a band, a great band. We played for the first time Friday at this place called Halibut's, this little restaurant with great fish `n' chips that's become a premiere blues spot here. I weaseled my way in there."
Of course his songwriting also touches on the blues, "Blues and old country," he agreed, "when I play there I'll do a bit of both: probably a more acoustic first set, then an electric blues set."
Beckman is coming back to Arcata to play Friday, Jan. 19, at one of his old haunts, the Jambalaya. He's not bringing his new band this time; instead he'll join with old cohorts, drummer Danny Montgomery and Danny's longtime rhythm partner Gary Davidson on bass. It's likely Fred Neighbor will sit in, and everyone's hoping Joyce Hough may be convinced to sing a song or two, thus reuniting a fair portion of the Whole Enchilada, Jam regulars back in the day.
"The Whole Enchilada was a whole lot of fun," said Beckman, "but that's not what this is. The others will sit in if they want, but it's mostly me, Danny and Gary. We'll do some things from my early albums, stuff like `Night Life,'
Pair of Diamonds,'Blues on my Pillow.' I have a new acoustic blues album, so I'll probably do some things from that in the first set."
The new CD, Blues Gone By, a mix of standards and originals, is self-produced and released on his own label. While he'd love to be picked up by Rounder Records or some equally independent outfit, he's not sitting at home waiting for it to happen.
"There are outlets for your music. If you get on CD Baby they put your music on iTunes. That gets you out there. And you can get on with Amazon.com. There are a ton of ways for independent artists to sell their music [on the Net]. Combine that with the fact that digital technology has made it so accessible for people to make their own CDs and you have a lot more people making music, those who wanted to before but were inhibited by the recording process and the cost. Now you can do it in your house, and you can do it well. All it takes is a couple of good mics and a nice board and you're off and running."
Montgomery is another Humboldt ex-pat, a hired-gun drummer who spends most of his time in Europe playing with one band or another, and working on everything from Spanish metal records to indie rock and blues. I heard he showed up at a recent Play Dead session at the Clam Beach Inn, where Deadhead musicians (including Davidson) play the Dead canon and tunes by Jerry. Play Dead is at it again this Thursday, Jan. 18, but Danny won't be there. Instead he'll be at the Jambalaya playing behind poet Jerry Martien. Back around the turn of the century Montgomery composed music for a collection of Martien's works (with assistance from Fred Neighbor); the result was a live recording, Jerry Martien and the Band of Angels. The plan for Thursday is to resurrect some of those pieces and try some newer things.
All in all it sounds like a return to the Jam of old: spoken word and music one night, country and blues the next, and a third show on Saturday, a free one, featuring The Fickle Hill Billies. Pete Ciotti, of Big Pete's Pizza, Nucleus, Yer Dog, Subliminal Sabotage, etc., tells me that the show is also a celebration of the 40th birthday of Rob from the Hill Billies.
Pete's playing an opening set with yet another band, a revived Day-Go, pairing him with his buddy Lenny, who is back in town. (Are you starting to see a pattern here?) And, he noted, "Since we were practicing for this show we started cutting some tracks which may result in a record. This is going to be a good year for Hellatite [Nucleus' indie label] with Day-Go, Sub Sab, Nucleus and Trash `n' Roll all with discs in the works."
Returning to the Hill Billies, Rob and a few others in the band are also in the other Dead tribute band, The Ripple Effect. They play this coming Wednesday at Humboldt Brews.
Did I mention that Ciotti is also playing Sunday night (Jan. 21) at the Alibi with his alt. country/rock band Yer Dog? Y-Dog drummer Mike is leaving town and it'll be his last show. (Anyone looking for a drumming gig?) They share the bill at the Alibi with El Sonido, a noisy psyche-rock band from Santa Cruz who describe their sound as "heavy liquid rock and roll."
Remember that note I got from Madi Simmons, who was looking to do some sort of James Brown memorial funk thing? He sent another recently. "I got a call from Greg of Bump Foundation," he wrote, "and was invited to do a few of James's tunes" when Bump plays at Humboldt Brews Saturday Jan. 20. He promises, "Gonna be a funky good time," and notes he's "thinking of doing the cape, I always loved that." Not that he'll listen, but I'm going to have to advise against the cape. Please, please, please don't do it. James owns the cape.
Saturday at the Alibi (and Friday at the Riverwood Inn) it's a relatively new local country string band called Rooster McClintock with former members of Slewfoot String Band. Some new variation of -grass is probably in order: chickengrass? Naw. Suggestions? Also at the Alibi that night, Trainwreck Riders, a honky tonk country punk/garage folk band from San Fran with a great name and a (kind of) new album, Lonely Road Revival, on Alive Records. It's twangy, bouncy, with potential for boot stompin' or do-see-dohs.
Speaking of do-see-dohs, Humboldt's own Devil's Dream String Bandplays for hipsters and square dancers at Muddy's Hot Cup Friday, Jan. 19. Actually I have no idea if there'll be a caller for the squares, but it's something they've been working on.
If jammy string music is your thing, check Blue Turtle Seductionfrom Tahoe playing high altitude jamgrass at Humboldt Brews Thursday and Friday.
Muddy's is back in swing all week. Thursday Deep Groove Society is back with thumping house music. Saturday Moo-Got-2 gets funky. Sunday it's Brazilian-born folk/pop songwriter Paula Maya down from Seattle.
An e-mail came today from Muddy's booker Lila Nelson noting, "a couple of colorful additions to the Muddy's Hot Cup January calendar": "Swing Django," a celebration of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt's birthday on Wednesday, Jan. 24, featuring local gypsy jazzers Cuckoo's Nest. Note: Django was actually born on Jan. 23, 1910 (he died in 1953), but since Tuesday is jazz night at Muddy's with Susie Laraine and Shao Way Wu, Wednesday seems close enough. The other "colorful addition"? Another Cuckoo's Nest show Sunday, Jan. 28, to be broadcast on KHUM as "Live at The Hot Cup."
Reggae? We'll start with the lowercase version. Wednesday, Jan. 24, Passion Presents presents Neil Fraser, aka Mad Professor mixing up the dub at Mazzotti's with Dr. Israel. I have to say, I love dub and I'm a big fan of the Mad Prof, a master of the form from England, so I'll be there. I checked in with the Prof at his website (www.ariwa.com) where he shares his unbridled opinions.
"So what are our roles in 2007 regarding the eradication of conscious and unconscious racism and associated behavior around the world?" he asks. "Some bury their heads in the sand, thinking everything is all right, because they have a nice job and all the perks that come with it. It's only when something indirectly happens, that we realize that none of us are sitting on the fence... Where do you stand? ... Are you a slave, slave master or liberator?"
Meanwhile on the roots front we have the debut of Dub Cowboy's weekly roots reggae DJ party, Upful Jamdown starting this Thursday, Jan. 18, at the Red Fox Tavern, something like a club version of his Friday afternoon "Reggae Jamdown" on KHSU (2-4 p.m.) with "music about conscious living and positive vibrations," to "fill your soul with hope, love, and positivity."
And turning briefly to Reggae with a capital "R" as in Reggae on the River. As we go to press Tuesday, the event is at a crucial point. Tuesday night there's a Mateel Board of Directors meeting where the audit will be a hot topic. Wednesday at the Mateel, the new producer, Boots Hughston of 2B1 Multimedia and Mateel staff will meet with all coordinators (something like Captains in the Reggae army) to begin planning for Reggae 2007. Elsewhere in this paper you'll find a "no confidence" letter from a group of longtime coordinators upset with the replacement of Carol Bruno as festival producer, and declaring they "cannot and will not contribute to the production of ROTR 2007 under the current circumstances." The Mateel Board sent out its own letter urging "everyone willing to go forward in a positive and productive manner to help us accomplish the goal of making this event happen in 07." That should prove an interesting meeting. It would be nice if hope, love and positivity might prevail, but the realist in me doubts that it will.